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The Decline of the Specialist
Posting Date: 07/17/2012

Roger Ingbretsen

The future may well belong to the generalist as organizations require employees to do many different tasks rather than one specific job. For the past 60 years organizations have centered their job descriptions on expertise in one specific skill. This system worked well in the traditional assembly-line manufacturing workplace, but this approach is quickly disappearing in the more successful organizations.

Yes there still remains a need for specialists most specifically in the hard science, research, and medical fields, but even that’s changing, as medical and other professionals better understand the blended interconnectivity of their efforts. Even in the service sector such as banking and sales, individuals understand the importance of multi-functional experience as a requirement for career success and job security.

The best forward-looking organizations constantly cross-train people so their talents can be applied in our constantly changing situations. The most valued employees are those individuals who can apply their collective knowledge wherever and whenever it is needed to accomplish the goals of the organization. In today’s ever-changing economic environment a flexible workforce is a distinct advantage, whereas a collection of specialists creates a less responsive workforce.

The United States is in a dire economic condition. Companies need to get the most out of each and every employee. They cannot afford to have very many specialists, but rather need most everyone to be full contributors so they can get through the present crisis. I strongly believe that as a result of the downsizing that has taken place, “the well-trained, knowledgeable and motivated generalist will be the employee of the future.”

The need for the generalist will have a big impact on our present education system, which continues to teach mainly “theory” and some career specific skills.” If a business has in partnership with the school developed a job specific

training program, that’s good. However, what is needed now more than ever is for the education system to get fully engaged in teaching solid communication, reading, math, reasoning, analytical and critical thinking skills, which can be “applied” in many job/career situations.

Specialized theory is nice to learn, but of little use on the job for most individuals. “Learning skills which can be applied” is the approach needed immediately to prepare individuals for the future workplace. Armed with strong learning skills, job specific skills can then be easily taught by the hiring organization. Our collective education system must get into the real world.

Because of the global economy, the national debt, uncertainty within the business community, the millions of people out of work and the lack of political leadership, the future is not only uncertain it’s virtually unknown. This is a very important point; these cited conditions will not be fixed in the near future. Whether employed or unemployed, now is the time for you to become a generalist.

The future workplace will not be the same. Yes, many hiring managers are still operating on the old specialist approach but that will change as they (the manager), understand that their success will depend on hiring the innovative and visionary generalist.

We have spent decades building a culture of specialist; it will take time to make the dramatic change needed to a culture of generalists with special skills. This change will be driven rather quickly by the reality of the kind of business model required to survive in today’s new economic environment. The most successful examples in business have learned to adapt. The most successful people have learned to adapt. The time has come for all to understand, prepare, accept, adapt and embrace the new world of work, the world of the generalist.

 

 
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